Michigan awaits Gary’s choice after landing Crawford

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Rashan Gary

In football parlance, this is the fourth quarter of recruiting, as high school players take their final visits and college coaches make a last push to land difference-makers for their teams.

Michigan added California four-star receiver Dylan Crawford to its 2016 freshman class when he revealed his commitment in the first quarter of Saturday’s nationally televised U.S. Army All-American Game. His addition gave Michigan a nudge upward in the national team recruiting rankings.

The Wolverines now have 24 commitments and with less than a month until the first day of the national signing period, Feb. 3, their class is ranked among the nation’s best. Michigan is No. 2 according to Rivals.com, behind LSU, while Scout.com has Michigan No. 3 behind Florida and LSU. The composite team rankings by 247Sports has Michigan ranked No. 2 behind LSU and ahead of Ohio State and Florida State.

“I just felt it was the all-around best fit for me,” Crawford said of Michigan during the NBC broadcast on Saturday. “I feel like I can get good networking there. They’ve got a good networking base. I can go in there and try to compete right from the beginning, and coach Harbaugh is going to get you right.”

UM lands 4-star WR Crawford, misses out on No. 1 TE

He was asked about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s reaction to his commitment.

“He was just excited,” Crawford said. “He’s fired up.”

Michigan already had a loaded class of receivers heading into the day with early enrollee Ahmir Mitchell, Brad Hawkins and Nate Johnson, but from all accounts, Crawford is highly skilled and brings a level of toughness to the position.

Quarterback Brandon Peters, Michigan’s early-enrollee freshman, also played in Saturday’s All-American game. He reportedly will begin classes on Monday. Cass Tech offensive lineman Michael Onwenu and defensive tackle Jordan Elliott from Houston, both Michigan commits, also were participants.

Harbaugh and his staff are awaiting word from five-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary, the No. 1 overall recruit out of Paramus (N.J.) Catholic. Gary is taking an unofficial visit to Michigan on Jan. 22, during which he recently told NJ.com he will be a “student for the day.” He intends to do this at two of his other leading schools, according to the news outlet. After that, Gary said to NJ.com, “I should have a good idea of where I’m going.”

“If Michigan gets Gary, it puts them right there (at No. 1). He would boost it in a huge way,” Allen Trieu, Midwest football recruiting manager for Scout, said Sunday. “In any class in the country, he makes it a great class.”

Trieu said he and several others from Scout recently researched the last seven or so top-rated players to see where Gary would fall in that group.

“We think he’s as good as any of those guys, if not better,” Trieu said. “The word ‘freak’ gets thrown around too much. He is actually one.”

The NCAA’s dead period in recruiting is lifted Thursday, and thus begins a high-traffic time for coaches to put the finishing touches on their classes by hosting visits and making in-person stops. Michigan certainly wants to land Gary, but also is strongly in the mix for Detroit King defensive back Lavert Hill, younger brother of current Michigan safety Delano Hill. Lavert Hill was named the “Air Defender of the Year” as the nation’s top high school defensive back at the U.S. Army All-American Game.

Like Gary, Hill doesn’t intend to announce his decision until signing day. He has plans for upcoming visits to four schools, USC, Clemson, Michigan State and Miami (Fla.), in that order.

“The finish is going to be very interesting,” Trieu said. “The unfortunate thing for (Michigan), as you look at the top guys they’re looking at — Gary, Lavert Hill and a couple other guys — all of them aren’t deciding until signing day. If you strike out on those guys, you don’t have an opportunity to circle the wagon and pick up new guys.

“They are continuing to work and new offers pop up. This is where it gets crazy. This weekend is the first they can have official visits. I would not be surprised if they go after names we aren’t aware of, guys who are not on the board. I think they’d like to close on one or two more in these next two weeks.”

Michigan doesn’t have many on-campus visits scheduled the last weekend of January, Trieu said, because Harbaugh and his staff hope to have a strong feeling what direction the 2016 class is going before then.

Michigan lost out on Isaac Nauta, the No. 1-rated tight end, on Saturday, when he announced he will attend Georgia, near where he grew up. And Detroit King receiver Donnie Corley, The Detroit News’ preseason No. 1 player, who was always thought to be a strong Michigan State lean, chose the Spartans.

Tight end Sam McKeon already has enrolled at Michigan, which allows him to participate in spring practice. Trieu said Michigan is in on three-star tight ends Jacob Mathis and Chase Allen, who is visiting this weekend.

“As much as they use tight ends, they want a second tight end in the class,” Trieu said. “That’s not an indictment of McKeon.”

There is still plenty of time for movement in this class, and that means additions and subtractions. Trieu said there about five players who are committed to Michigan who may not end up with the Wolverines, but there remains a strong pool of talent from which to draw.